For so many adults, it is not that we’ve forgotten how to have fun as we grow older—it’s simply that we have grown to undervalue fun’s importance. It started when we were scolded in adolescence to “act our age!” A punitive warning issued when caught in a fun moment of whimsy. We are slowly but surely taught that a serious nature is a marker of maturity.
As the years pass, and life piles on increasing responsibilities, we are led to believe there just isn’t any time for fun. Recent research suggests that we should be challenging these assumptions for a host of reasons. Most notably, our descent into hustle culture might be killing us. Recent research from the World Health Organization suggests that when we trade our leisure time for long working hours, it can quite literally be fatal. In the following article, we provide five steps to reverse this enverating pattern so that you can reinfuse your life with a bit more fun and joy.
Reclaim Your Autonomy and Agency
The first step is to reframe the misconception that having fun is a bad thing. Reclaim your leisure time by reintroducing yourself to the autonomy and agency you have over select hours in your day.
Autonomy is the state of being self-governing. Flex your autonomy by deciding what hours in your day are uniquely yours to control. Rather than always prioritizing your to-do list, dedicate some time for leisure—whether that is time away from work, parenting, or another form of stress. It is important to prioritize some time for either activity you find personally relaxing or exciting (depending on your preference for arousal).
Agency, the state of exerting your personal power. What good is self-governance if you don’t use your personal power to take action? When you find opportunities for autonomy in your schedule, flexing your agency helps you follow through.
Create a Bias Towards Fun
Now that you have undone the false belief that fun is selfish, bias activities in your life towards fun and positivity.
Research shows that the integration of enjoyable leisure activities has a multitude of positive effects: One study took 1,399 participants, including both men and women, and measured the effects of hobbies and other leisurely pursuits on overall health and well-being with something they coined the “Pittsburgh Enjoyable Activities Test.”
The study showed that engagement in fun activities has a varietal spectrum of psychosocial and physical benefits. Things like better physical health, better sleep, lower stress, higher reports of happiness, and stronger social networks.
Make Fun Immutable
Schedule fun in your calendar the same way you do other commitments. When something is on our calendar, we tend to honor the activity as immutable no matter what it is.
Scheduling non-work activities—in the same way we schedule other priorities—helps us improve our work-life blend. Moreover, when we feel a sense of balance, numerous studies have concluded that over time we actually get more done. Once you routinely start scheduling fun and reaping the rewards, your fun habit will begin to feel natural, and you will wonder why you didn’t start sooner.
Invite Fun In
Make a shortlist of people you know who are always fun to be around and reach out to them. Fun is contagious, so spend time with those who inspire you to be joyful and their fun is bound to rub off on you. The phenomenon is aptly called social contagion. If you don’t know anyone fun, try a site like MeetUp.com that helps you connect with groups of people with varying interests. Find a group that looks fun and see if it works for you.
Learn Something Fun
Committing to learning or reacquainting yourself with a new hobby is a great way to stack the deck with ongoing opportunities to engage in something fun. For folks that like high arousal activities, this could be something like signing up for a rock climbing course or joining a running club. For those that find fun in low arousal activities fun, this could be joining a book club or taking an online knitting course. Either way you play it, you will be rewarded with new insight and ongoing opportunities for fun.
Dr. Mike Rucker is the author of The Fun Habit, a book offering a practical reframing of positive psychology, making the case that we should cultivate the habit of fun to bring a greater sense of happiness and joy to our lives. The Fun Habit releases in summer 2022.